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2017 19 Jul

A Rail Operator’s View

Posted in Industry

Stagecoach hold three major rail franchises and operate 2,300 train services which carry 278 million passengers a year.

Tim Shoveller, the Managing Director of Stagecoach Rail Division, explains why digital modernisation of the network is essential and why only an integrated transformation will deliver the changes needed.

“A quiet digital railway revolution has been underway for some time. Since the 1980s, many signalling renewals have used computers and software to replace physical relays in signal box interlockings, with the signaller controlling trains on a screen instead of a ‘panel’.

Similarly, new trains have been built with software providing better control over everything from acceleration to the temperature in the carriage, passengers have benefited from technology to improve the way we communicate to our passengers and we are at last, getting to grips with ticketing

So why all the excitement about the Digital Railway now? Well, I think the pace of change is accelerating, and we need it to! We have not yet been able to join up all the individual developments, but we must now bring together these systems to allow us to really transform the service we offer our passengers.

We now have the opportunity to do it, and provide solutions to some of our really significant challenges, most notably the need to increase the number of trains that can run on our busy railway. At the heart of this is the switch to ‘in cab’ signalling together with ‘traffic management’ systems, that can provide better and faster information to improve decision making and then critically, enable faster, direct communication to those running the railway in real time to pass onto passengers.

Whilst new railways are built with these systems in place, it is much, much harder to bring this all together on a ‘mixed traffic’, ‘mixed age’ railway, with a huge variety of technical standards and systems. It’s like trying to make an iPhone compatible with a wind-up gramophone! The old systems, trains and processes all have to be compatible with the new – and the last thing we need is greater complexity. But this is worth persevering with and continually challenging ourselves to modernise.

Too often the perception is that the cost of maintaining and improving the railway is prohibitively expensive – that’s not where I want us to be as a modern railway and I am keen to use every opportunity to implement a modern, digital, railway which will be good for the future of our railway and most importantly, for our passengers.”